Cross-posted from Wonk Room.
According to Declan McCullagh, a libertarian blogger who works for CBS Interactive, secret Obama administration documents reveal that the cost of clean energy cap-and-trade legislation would be $1,761 per household — despite official estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Energy Information Administration of about a postage stamp a day. Based on Treasury Department documents acquired by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), McCullagh claims that “a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent“:
The Obama administration has privately concluded that a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent. A previously unreleased analysis prepared by the U.S. Department of Treasury says the total in new taxes would be between $100 billion to $200 billion a year. At the upper end of the administration’s estimate, the cost per American household would be an extra $1,761 a year.
This is pure twaddle. McCullagh is confabulating a “disclosure” out of whole cloth:
Obama’s Plan Would Have Established Tax Cuts For Working Families. In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a green economy plan that would create a $80 billion carbon market and use the money raised from polluters for middle class tax cuts.
Congress Did Not Adopt President Obama’s Plan. The Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is comprehensive clean energy legislation, coupling the carbon market with national renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Unlike Obama’s plan, the ACES Act would establish a more limited carbon market, distribute most permits for free to polluting industry, with provisions that compel utilities to pass along their value to ratepayers, and provide further assistance for low-income consumers. One can’t use an analysis of Obama’s proposal to calculate the economic benefits of the legislation now being considered.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act Builds A Clean Economy For A Postage Stamp A Day. The EPA estimates a net cost of about $100 per household per year, which would be fully offset for lower-income consumers. The Congressional Budget Office — which did not consider the energy efficiency measures or the cost of inaction — determined “that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion — or about $175 per household.”
The American Clean Energy and Security Act Cuts Electricity Bills And Dependence On Foreign Oil. The EPA has found that Waxman-Markey cuts household electricity bills by seven percent by 2020. The EIA found the legislation would save Americans $5,600 per household in reduced dependence on foreign oil.
To come up with the false claim that Obama’s plan was “the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent,” McCullagh ignored where the money would come from — polluting industries with billions of dollars in annual profits — and where the money would go — tax cuts for working people.
In reality, President Obama’s proposal would have amounted to tax cuts worth hundreds of dollars for working families, with the added benefits of greatly reduced dependence on toxic oil and coal, billions of dollars of investment in clean energy, and the avoidance of catastrophic climate change.
McCullagh argues that his so-called “disclosures” will “probably not aid the political prospects of the Democrats’ cap and trade bill,” and quotes CEI’s Chris Horner: “It’s nice to see they’re not spinning each other behind closed doors.” Horner, who filed the FOIA request, runs global warming denial blogs for CEI and the National Review. In June, McCullagh breathlessly promoted CEI’s other “scandal” of a global warming denier economist who works for the EPA.
Opponents of clean energy reform are inflating the costs of action by 1,000 percent, while minimizing that the threat of climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels. Ironically, these lies may actually aid the political prospects of action, as the American public grow more disgusted with the unethical tactics of polluters and their right-wing allies.
Update: In a phone interview with the Wonk Room, CNet managing editor Jon Skillings explained that on the CNet site, “reporters self-edit” and “are generally expected to be their own fact-checkers.” Promising to follow up with McCullagh, he concluded, “we take our ethics very seriously.”
Update: Declan McCullagh is also guilty of inflating his job title, claiming on his personal website and his Twitter feed to be “the chief political correspondent” for CBSNews.com. Bill Martens, Vice President of Product Development and Strategy for CBSNews.com, tells the Wonk Room that McCullagh’s actual CBSNews.com title is “senior correspondent.”
Update: McCullagh has corrected his job title inflation, but not the inflated cost for clean energy reform. Does this reflect the priorities of CBS News?
Update: Alan Krueger, Treasury Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, responds:
The reporting on the Treasury analysis is flat out wrong. Treasury’s analysis is consistent with public analyses by the EIA, EPA, and CBO, and the reporting and blogging on this issue ignores the fact that the revenue raised from emission permits would be returned to consumers under both administration and legislative proposals.
It is time for an honest debate about how to solve a long-term challenge and deliver comprehensive energy reform — not for misrepresentations of the facts.